Today we are faced with a series of questions. How is it possible to convince even more people to buy The Sims 3? Who would be targeted in such a drive? People who are still clinging to the arguably more complete and less buggy Sims 2, where they can already own pets? What about the cynics and naysayers, can they be convinced? What is the hook that will snare a new audience? EA have decided to offer a teaser, which is kind of like a demo but not. The teaser can be downloaded or played online through the Gaikai cloud service. That's a new one on me so I decided to see how it worked and what it offered. The first and most difficult step was making my way inside.
Earlier this morning, clicking 'Play now!' led to a screen informing of scheduled maintenance. Fair enough. Gaikai is probably preparing itself for the influx of people who want to try out browser-based personal hygiene simulation. I checked back sporadically and by around 11 the maintenance appeared to be complete.
I don't know who the proper authorities are but I'm glad they've been notified. Maybe they'll be able to schedule more maintenance in order to fix the problem. Before I closed the window though, I read through the possible reasons for the unknown error. The Sims 3 teaser page distinctly says: "If you have access to the Internet and the latest versions of Adobe Flash and Java installed, you will be able to play The Sims 3 Teaser." The error page elaborated on my potential ability with the following.
So let's rephrase the opening statement. "If you have access to the Internet and the latest versions of Adobe Flash and Java installed, and live in a geographically appropriate region, you will be able to play The Sims 3 Teaser." Now we're getting somewhere. It is entirely possible that my particular corner of These British Isles is too far from an EA server. Hopefully everybody around me is also trying to play though, because then a new server might appear in the next five minutes, meaning that this post won't be entirely futile.
Five minutes later I was still seeing the same error screen whenever I tried to play. Then something odd happened. Despite being told that nothing was happening anytime soon, I left the tab open. Not out of a misguided belief that something might happen, simply because I was distracted by something else that was actually working. A couple of minutes later, this happened.
It was like being in line for a not-very-exclusive nightclub or a theme park ride with notorious safety issues. Four entire other human beings were all that stood between me and Sim Browser. Presumably this means the closest server is full and we have to wait for people to drop out. It is like a nigthclub, with a one in one out policy. Maybe I could tell them who I am and get rushed to the front of the queue? I am a very important games person indeed.
Oh. My experience, since they're asking, was being located in an unmoving digital queue and then having unexpected somethings happen that meant my demo didn't load. That was my experience, the whole shebang. I told them about it.
Ten minutes pass and I try again. Only two people in the queue this time and then, without two becoming one or any such thing, suddenly the familiar Sims 3 music fills my room and a loading bar appears. It takes about three minutes to fill, while I'm barraged with the usual nonsensical spiel about recalibrating llamas and diagnosing emotional matrices. Then I'm in and I'm actually playing The Sims 3 in my browser!
It's at this point that I forget to actually take any screenshots of the actual game because I become distracted by what's actually happening. Go me. I tried to go back in to take some but, guess what? I haven't been able to get back inside. That was it, my one shot at the big time. In fact, I get a new error message sometimes.
I honestly haven't moved house since this morning.
It looks fine though, despite significant popup when loading in a new area. It'd be more instructive to see it in motion because that's where the lag is noticeable. Every now and then, a Sim will appear at the other side of the room as the connection struggles to keep up, but it's hardly a disaster considering the type of game this is.
The problem, however, and where the teaser lost me completely, is that it doesn't contain any of my favourite parts of the game. Characters are chosen from three boring stereotypes, which can be played either male or female, and their homes are prefabricated. I didn't expect a full building mode but it would be useful to be able to decorate a room, or extend a bedroom. Something that shows that there's more to the game than guiding a generic man through his generic life.
It's like The Sims Greatest Hits, a series of set pieces that are so far removed from what is impressive in The Sims 3 that I can't imagine it's going to convince anyone to jump on board. Your chosen Sim can go to a wild party, head off on a holiday or meander around town trying to find meaning in his/her life. The main problem I have is that these constructed events have no meaning without the emergent gameplay that leads to them. The Sims is at its best when it allows players to create their own narrative.
The Sims can be an excellent storytelling device when in sync with a willing imagination, but this teaser doesn't show any of that. It shows wacky gadgets, plush pads and preformed relationships. I don't care about the time the Sim I know nothing about went to a party with other Sims I know nothing about and then I quit and will never see them again.
I didn't expect more but I expected something different. As far as I can see, this teaser doesn't fulfill any of the functions a great demo can, and I'm a huge advocate of developers providing demos. But this doesn't help me to work out how well my computer will run the game, it doesn't show me the features of the game I'm most interested in and it doesn't reflect any of the experiences I've enjoyed in the full product. The teaser makes The Sims 3 seem static, like the handheld versions of the game, when in reality it's anything but.
You can avoid all the browser issues by downloading the teaser but it won't make it anymore representative of the final product. When I quit, EA seemed convinced their work was done, despite my obvious aura of misgiving.
I closed the tab.